My commencement speech (that no one asked for)

imageTo the Class of 2017, faculty members, parents, dignitaries, mis-informed wedding crashers, and Visa/MasterCard representatives who have gathered here today:

I am honored to have the opportunity to address this group of graduating seniors and impart the wisdom I have gained since my own graduation from high school nearly 150 years ago.

Standing before you today, I see the anticipation on your faces as each of you comes to realize what sharing my wisdom with you means: Possibly the shortest commencement speech in school history.

Before long, you will step forward and receive the culmination of 12 — possibly 14 — years of education. You will shake hands with some of those who have helped guide you to this milestone. And unless your last name begins with a “Z,” you will return to your seat as the rest your classmates step forward to receive their diplomas. That’s when you will silently think to yourself, “I really shouldn’t have had that second bottle of Mountain Dew.” 

But you will sit quietly, probably cross-legged, and deal with it. You are now officially your own person — making your own decisions, embracing the rewards and accepting the consequences of those decisions — as you embark on a journey of independence in a world of your own making.

At least until laundry day, when you will return home to eat chocolate chip cookies while mom gets the Cheeto and pizza stains out of your favorite underwear.

That’s because having wisdom isn’t about knowing everything. It’s also about recognizing and acknowledging when you don’t. Just like getting those stains out, it’s OK to admit when you don’t know how to do something or handle a tough situation in life. A smart person takes ownership of the things they know; I wise person seeks the knowledge of others when they don’t.

When I graduated from high school in 1984, there was no Internet.

No Siri.

No Pinterest.

And thankfully, No Kanye West.

Therefore, the Class of 1984  was expected to know EVERYTHING. The pressure was tremendous! We hugged our parents goodbye and entered a dark, Google-less world. We were young pilots flying blind. Dead stick. Rudderless. Broken-winged. And lots of other euphemisms I am now able to Google for occasions like this. We had no choice but to rely on each other. We pooled our knowledge. Challenged each other. Together, we advanced ourselves and society by having the courage to answer fundamental questions like: What would happen if we grew chia seeds on a clay pot shaped like ‘Mr. T?’

Truth be told, it’s human nature to want to know all the answers. At the same time, culture discourages us from admitting when we don’t have them. You’ve now spent the better part of your first 17 to 20 years of life receiving an education. Not so you’ll have all the answers, but have the courage and wisdom to ask the kinds of questions that will improve your life and, hopefully, the lives of others. This will take more than Googling. More than Wikipedia. Possibly even more than How-To videos on YouTube.

It’s certainly going to take a great data and texting plan.

However, most of all it’s going to take the kind of determination that got you here; sitting in these chairs; moments away from receiving your diploma; and still regretting that second bottle of Mountain Dew.

Yet, I look upon your faces and see my own hope reflected in them. When you leave here, be courageous and wise. Never be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers. Those who do are destined to a life of empty promises. Usually somewhere in our nation’s Capitol.

Always remember the feeling you have right now. The anticipation. The hope. The unlimited possibilities. It’s who you are at this moment.

It’s who you will always be as long as you allow yourself to be wise…



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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

25 thoughts on “My commencement speech (that no one asked for)”

  1. Good address. 🙂 But that wisdom bit – I wasn’t wise when I graduated from high school. A wet paper bag gave me trouble. Still not wise. But at least I’m smart enough or experienced enough to know it. 🙂

  2. First thing I was told in PHL 10: the first step of learning is to know what you don’t know! Love the speech and the humor. Probably the least painful commencement address I’ve ever heard/seen.

  3. Class of ’84, represent! (What would we have said in 1984? “Class of ’84! Gnarly!” Nope.)
    This is actually better than most commencement speeches I’ve heard. And working at a high school, I’ve heard a lot.

    1. “Class of ’84! Like Totally!” And thanks, that’s high praise considering the competitive nature of high school commencement-speech givers…

  4. Ha! I just wandered over here while checking out this year’s nominees for funniest blog and I’m grouchy with you already. Not only did I have to get up to take a leak midway through, but now I want a Mtn Dew and its all the way back in the kitchen. Sure there were laughs, and sure, I’m gonna be following you. But don’t think that means I like it. Not one bit.

    1. Gabe, just be glad I wasn’t talking about something really important… like bacon, which you actually have to stop and prepare. I get grouchy just thinking about the wait! But it’s oh so worth it. Thanks for sticking it out between bathroom breaks… wait, that doesn’t sound right…

  5. Thanks for taking me on a trip to the recent past when there was no Google. I’m terrified at the thought of this BTW but at the same time nostalgic for my old life when I didn’t have neck pain and eye strain from staring at a device. I think you’ve sent the class of 2017 into the wild with some great advice to help them succeed, Ned.

  6. These words are poignant and mean a lot to me since I sat through my own graduation last Friday night. Going back to school at my age has been an interesting experience. I felt good about the other night and proud of my accomplishments, but I also had a lot of regrets sitting there. “Why in hell did I wait so long to do this????” 😓 I will return to school this August to work on my next degree and then my Masters after that (if I am not totally burned out by then) I will be 57 by the time I have it all done, but I will be 57 WITHOUT my degrees also. That’s ok…. If I had it to do over, I would certainly take school more seriously the first time around. People around me act like this is a big deal more than I FEEL like it is a big deal. I have wonderful friends and family who support me and their opinion matters to me. Now onto bigger and better things… 😀 ❤

    1. What matters most is that it’s an accomplishment on your own terms and for your own reasons. I think that’s the difference between school as a teen and school as an adult — and why we appreciate it more. Either way, best wishes to your pursuit and congrats on what you’ve already accomplished on your own terms 🙂

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